Scientists discover gene for wheat resistance to Ug99
"The Sr35 gene was one of those genes that was discovered in einkorn wheat grown in Turkey," Akhunov said. "Until now, however, we did not know what kind of gene confers resistance to Ug99 in this wheat accession."
To identify the resistance gene Sr35, the team turned to einkorn wheat that is known to be resistant to the Ug99 fungal strain. Einkorn wheat has limited economic value and is cultivated in small areas of the Mediterranean region. It has been replaced by higher yielding pasta and bread wheat varieties.
Researchers spent nearly four years trying to identify the location of the Sr35 gene in the wheat genome, which contains nearly two times more genetic information than the human genome.
Once the researchers narrowed the list of candidate genes, they used two complimentary approaches to find the Sr35 gene. First, they chemically mutagenized the resistant accession of wheat to identify plants that become susceptible to the stem rust pathogen.
"It was a matter of knocking out each candidate gene until we found the one that made a plant susceptible," Akhunov said. "It was a tedious process and took a lot of time, but it was worth the effort."
Next, researchers isolated the candidate gene and used biotechnical approaches to develop transgenic plants that carried the Sr35 gene and showed resistance to the Ug99 race of stem rust.
Now that the resistance gene has been found, Akhunov and colleagues are looking at what proteins are transferred by the fungus into the wheat plants and recognized by the protein encoded by the Sr35 gene. This will help researchers to better understand the molecular mechanisms behind infection and develop new approaches for controlling this devastating pathogen.